standing still for solstice

(all images Kate Kennington Steer)

I am drawn to light, of all kinds, in all shapes.  I am pulled towards the symbols and manifestations of the Great Light.  And yet, paradoxically, through chronic ill health, I am often dragged into the most shadowed places within.  The darknesses of depression are a constant companion lurking not far from my surface, but this very presence of darkness also provides a constant metaphor for my seeking of the Holy.  I long to behold the face of God in these places where, as Barbara Taylor Brown summarises, ‘Dark is not Dark to God’.  Over the years it has become clear that in order to examine the nature of Light I often need to stand still in a place of contrasting, but corresponding, shadow.

As I come to the time in the annual calendar when I can join the millions reaching back down the centuries to mark this summer’s Solstice, I find myself contemplating how the roots of the word ‘solstice’ might illuminate a continued Covid-19 lockdown for my parents and I, as we continue to shield one another.  Solstice is derived from the Latin root words sol (Sun) and sistere (to stand still).  As a contemplative photographer, Sol is often my sole subject, as I play with perceptions of things others often overlook, as I draw attention to the revelation of Joy in a colour, or Peace in a shape.  I seek out the places where, in my own immediate context, the Sun has made herself visible, and by Grace, can be encountered in the shrivelling of a leaf as much as in the blooming of a daylily. 

Just as over the last few years I have learnt to welcome and accept the gifts of midwinter through celebrating the winter Solstice, the shortest day, as ‘Blue Christmas’, so I am aware of a balancing need to recalibrate my appreciation of the longest day.  Noticing how light passes by and through me when the earth’s axial tilt towards the sun is at its greatest (in relation to the northern hemisphere), is not something to which I normally consciously remember to pay attention.  Perhaps this is because I associate the summer Solstice so strongly with seeing the dawn, and normally, seeing dawn is problematic for me.  Dawn is indicative of the fact I haven’t been able to sleep and is a sign of a rough day ahead, rather than what I long for it to be: a purposeful invitation to rise up with energy to enter the new day’s beginning.   

I have long been fascinated by the mystery of Solstice rituals and myths surrounding Stonehenge, awed by ancient practices and connections.  I am drawn towards the idea of celebrating seasonal cycles, and making my own thanksgiving rites so that I do not take the sun’s blessing on the earth for granted.  Stonehenge’s alignment of certain stones in certain lights at particular moments of the year offers a thread of connection back to my Neolithic ancestors who seem to have been drawn to the place as a sacred spot to honour their ancestors in their turn.  I am drawn towards the stones themselves, particularly those which literally become ‘ringing rocks’, mined in the far west of Wales, a land where some of my own ancestors were born.  These Welsh ‘bluestones’ have old legends of healing attached to their peculiar acoustic properties, so it’s not difficult for me to make imaginative leaps, seeing how varying ritual alignments of light might bring shifts in meaning through thanksgiving to healing to blessing.  For obvious reasons, being healed by the Shining One is one of my prayers of longing.

As I wrote at Beltane, the metaphor of fire has kept cropping up for me throughout the Resurrection season so perhaps this year, if I cannot get up at sunrise, I might join in with another Solstice tradition and light a fire at sunset?  Hildegard of Bingen saw fire as the element associated with the South, and so with abundance, with energy, with power, with passion, and ripening. Fire could be the prompt I need to align myself with these qualities in this season of my life. 

By conflating the Pagan and Christian calendars, marking Solstice (21/22 June) as the celebration of the start of summer, often became confused with St John’s Day (24 June), which marked Midsummer. During the Medieval period in England a ritual of lighting three ‘St John’s fires’ became popular, with one of these being a huge burning wheel, which was rolled downhill in a dramatic demonstration symbolising the sun’s turning.  The festivities using light and fire on St John’s Eve marked the counterpoint to those used on Christmas Eve, making literal links between the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Christ the Light-bringer, six months later (25 December).  

So my Solstice celebration this year might act like a plumb line dropped through history;  across space and time my stillness might join with that of others before the Light of the World.  Solstice might present an opportunity for me to align myself anew, so that the dawn might brighten my soul, so that the midday might give me strength in its blazing.

In the fiery heat of summer, how may I fan my kindled flames into passionate outpourings?  How might my small store of energy be amplified by the power of the Light which is infinite?  How might I allow this abundant Light to flow through me, to overflow for the good of those around me?

As I stand on the threshold of summer, the season of slow ripening, may I raise my face to absorb God’s Glory.  As I encounter the Creator, may I bow down, aligning my whole body with God’s Will.  As I am raised up by Grace once again, may I rise impassioned and envisioned, filled with light distilled from shadow, ready to serve and ready to bless:

The Lord bless you and keep you

the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you

the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

(Numbers 6.24-5 NRSV)

we each hear in our own language (Acts 2.8, Pentecost 2020)

How do I hear the Holy Spirit speak to me?  In soughing grass, in crashing wave, in a child’s cry, in an elder’s laugh?  In sunlight on my lifted face, in moonlight on my crumpled bed? In an urgent prod that begins in my gut and lies heavy on my solar plexus?  In another’s singing, in a poet’s image, in a ghostly whisper in my ear?

How about this: I hear the Holy Spirit speak to me in colour.

In the summer holidays of 2018 Creative Response encouraged my art group to work separately, but together, on #projectyellow.  Yellow was chosen because most of the group agreed it was a ‘happy’ colour, therefore it was a ‘safe’ colour for us whose fragile mental health needs nurturing care, especially during the prolonged period when the group would not be meeting.  I was blasé about the colour choice, sun and flowers sprung to mind and I was ok enough about that.   My initial reaction was I didn’t particularly like it, and didn’t choose to have much of it around me on a daily basis, but I would play with the project and use it to pray for the others in the group as I went.  I thought that was that. However, my curiosity began to kick in on the journey home from the last group session of the summer term.  Immediately on entering my flat I picked up a camera and, as an opening exercise, tried to see whether I had any yellow in my home surroundings.  It turns out there was A LOT of it about and I had not consciously perceived it before.

As I began concentrating and focussing on yellow in all its diverse shades, hues and textures, I became aware that I was getting very angry.  In fact I was becoming livd, brimming with bewildering rage of a staggering intensity.

When I took this experience to my counsellor a few days later, she led me through some word association work on the colour red.  By visualising my rapid-fire responses to its shades, hues and textures we began to see a way in which I might (just might) be able to bypass my over-active intellectual mind, and key into developing my subconscious emotional vocabulary by  concentrating on colour.

The subsequent eight week exploration into #projectyellow was difficult to say the least.  Living livid is exhausting.  I produced an awful lot of work in a wide variety of media, and although that was hugely gruelling, some part of me was aware the process was being fruitful, useful, enlightening.  For example, I stumbled over my associations between yellow and Easter, I rejected an image of God as wholly yellow, and heard my inner snob dismiss yellow as a ‘simple’, ‘too easy’ colour.

It was almost impossible to see the Glory in yellow; and for the duration of #projectyellow the Holy Spirit was mute about joy but clearly loud about anger.  Recalibrating my emotional trigger rage response to yellow is an ongoing road, but at least I can now see it freely enough to acknowledge that yellow, like any colour, is a source pure possibility, complexity and mystery.  One concrete change the project brought is that I can use yellow more freely in my painting than I did in 2018 and the wonderful work of the artist Marjolijn Thie-ter Beek has been an important part of this rebalancing appreciation journey.   

All this means I have adopted the approach of concentrating on a single colour to focus on what my emotional, spiritual, mental and physical connections with it might be. So last November, when I came out of hospital, I began #projectgrey and despite poor health this winter the Spirit enabled me to spend hours exploring its subtleties (mostly from my bed): through collage, paint, poetry, photography and journalling.

This journey drew to a natural close at the end of April and almost seamlessly transfigured into the small beginnings of #projectgreen. 

As I gaze through the lushness outside my window, I return to seeing the disciples in the dusty, baked stone upper room, in a hot city packed with religious from ‘all the nations under heaven.  I see each disciple hearing the Spirit differently, each receiving ‘as the Spirit gave them ability’, each astonishing themselves by what begins to pour from their mouths.  I see them flinging wide the shutters and streaming out of the doors with such passion, catching the attention of the tourists with their energetic performances, amazing each passerby hearing a particular, specific message through a voice pitched just for their ears…  

However much my inner artist hankers to develop her ‘voice’, honing it until she has a distinctive, instantly recognisable style, it is not in her gift: my voice can only arise out of my hearing. 

It is the Spirit who speaks to me in a unique way, in a voice created especially for me to hear. 

It is the Spirit who gives me the means by which I may make a unique response to God’s calling forth. 

It is the Spirit who gives me the nudge to leave my place of fear and security, insisting that the world needs to hear what the Spirit says through me, and you, and you, and you… 

Hearing the Spirit speak ‘my’ language is the way God asks me directly to contribute to building ‘our’ Kingdom community.

Let those who have ears to hear, listen.

furled fire (a Beltaine Birthday Blessing)

FF3A311F-F307-4DFE-B956-447D706458C3_1_201_a

Every year I wonder whether to write something to mark Beltaine, the Celtic feast which celebrates a cross-quarter day in the year’s wheel, the end of the dark half of the year and the beginning of its half of light.  I celebrate the waxing of the arc the sun’s path makes across the little slice of sky I can see from my bedroom window, lengthening the daylight, extending the twilight, elongating the stirrings before sun-up.  The mystic in me reaches back in time to dance with the Celts round their fires, hearing their circling prayers as they do so, being bound with them into the Great Wheel.  I reach back to listen to the songs of the May-day, Mary-Day, celebrations, watching young women entering into the mysteries of the holy feminine, embracing their potential to birth the Holy, to tend the sacred in the everyday, to serve the earth and all it feeds.  Amongst this cloud of witnesses, I also hear the shouts of workers banded together on Labour Day, revelling in the freedom of a ‘bank’ holy-day, their passion for justice and equality being an energy to which I could pay more heed, a demand for fair pay and right treatment fuelling an anger whose spark is still needed in so many places as we each fail to fulfil fair-trade agreements in the light of demands for our own comfort.

Such voices take on names, then grow into faces as my ancestors appear before me, my name ‘Kate’ receding back down the generations, and I thank God for those women who have gone into the making of me.  I thank their God and mine because the beginning of May marks my birthday, signalled by the beech hedges beginning to burst tight buds, when cracked, dry brown drops away to reveal such a fresh green it cause my eyes to hurt with joy.

smokebush 1 April 2020

Every year this season of another year’s uncurling brings mixed feelings, a new noticing of my own transformational ‘unfurling’ process into becoming the woman God has created me to be.  Every year the occurrence of Beltane creates in me a tremendous mix of thanksgiving joy, welling grief, and longing grace.  The paradoxical weakness of this year’s potent buds (the earth’s resurrection mirrored in me and vice versa) marks the beginning of my 31st year of learning to live with a chronic illness.  I recognise again the times I tried to push through the pain, mess and discomfort, and the periods I could do nothing but stop for a  paralysed rest.  I glimpse the ways in which I tried to seek different employment, before each career attempt was brought to a close by the next wave of demands from my body and mind.  Alongside such sadnesses, I can pick out my experience of individual days going back years by remembering the photographs I received and the images I made, knowing who I was with, and how the light smelt.  I can see favourite, and feared, places by colour.  I can note swathes of time passing by the creativity I explored, the poetry of #practicingresurrection with the community at Abbey of the Arts in 2015, the multi-media Oak Tree project when my ceiling collapsed in 2016, a summer #projectyellow marking a slide into intense depression in 2017, a painting adventure into ‘little Katie’s’ eyes in 2018, bringing a cosmic smash book on self-trust into being whilst in hospital in 2019.

There is so much to be so thankful for.   In all the gifts from darknesses that have punctuated the last 31 years there are indeed such spots of ‘bright fire’ (Bel-Taine) to celebrate and honour.  There, where the power of God was made present to my weakness and Spirit transfigured frailty into outpourings.  So as I move across this sacred timely threshold again and for the first time in the midst of all that is strange and familiar about the circumstances of COVID lockdown, I pause, praise and give thanks.  I hear again and for the first time Abba Moses ask me ‘why not become fire?’.

May my inner flame be strengthened to its fullness in bright depths of colour, may they thrill and fuel both my creativity and my compassion, so that Grace can call forth from me all that I have been designed to be just exactly for this moment in time, for whomsoever I might meet in my isolation. 

May this year’s cycle of unfurling begin.

become fire 1 2020

This article was originally written for the Godspace blog as part of their season on the theme of ‘Creation: Resurrection and New Life’, 1st May 2020.

psalms for passiontide: Easter Sunday Psalm 66.5

Whether it be in revisiting the victory song that is Psalm 118, or hearing the legends of exile recapped in Psalm 105 or 66, all of the Psalms the Lectionary nominates for Easter Day invite us to:

Come and see what God has done

(Psalm 66.5 NRSV)

These psalmists also agree that all God’s deeds up to this moment in the history of the universe have been ‘awesome’; whether people have been in triumph or in tragedy, God has remained jaw-dropping, astonishing, amazing in love and strength and Grace.

Take a good look at God’s wonders—

    they’ll take your breath away.

He converted sea to dry land;

    travelers crossed the river on foot.

    Now isn’t that cause for a song?

(Psalm 66.5-6 The Message)

What has God done for me?: been God.

What is God doing for me still?: being God.

What am I doing for God?: being who God makes me to be.  My desire (however imperfectly lived) is to allow God access to all of me, so God might ‘shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life’ (Psalm 51.10 The Message).

All I can do is be the conduit who keeps inviting you, my reader, to ‘come and see’.  Increasingly that feels like my vocation.  Come, see a wondrous mishmash of words and images that point past me to God (I hope and pray).

All I can do is encourage you to bring your curiosity alongside your intention to pause, even for just a second; to come and see and hear again, or for the first time, God’s invitation to discover to you who God is and what God might do for, and with, you.

Come and see what God has done. 

Come and see through my eyes a world where God inhabits even the smallest detail, no atom or particle is too small that is does not contain all of the wonder who is God. 

Come and see a world where darkness, despair and death are not the final word. 

Come and see who God looks like in this day, and all days.

meeting the Already. (diptych. iPhone images)

meeting the Already 1 (bl)meeting the Already 2 (bl)

psalms for passiontide: Holy Saturday Psalm 31.1-4,15,16

refuge

rock

refuge

fortress

rock

fortress

refuge

These are the images of Psalm 31.1-4, the oh-too-solid opposites of the tangled net the psalmist feels closing around him. 

On Holy Saturday, these are also images of a tomb in which an already much-mourned, much-loved, broken body lies waiting for its final anointing and arranging once the sun goes down on a sabbath day of enforced inaction.

On Holy Saturday, a moment of silence between street noise allows me to catch a whisper of a welling up of grief from two thousand years ago, from two minutes ago.  These are the choked sighs of the many who wait in limbo, stuck in the unreality of an existence where there is a felt absence when there should be a body; where the strange experience of being caught in the gap between a death and the opportunity for a final goodbye can only bring bewilderment and a sense of shifting ground where once there was steadiness.

The verbs this psalmist uses are telling, too:

seek

deliver

incline

rescue

be

lead

guide

take

deliver

shine

save

My own faith story can be woven from these words.  And in the waiting room that is Holy Saturday, I am invited into the tomb, into the Rock’s very presence, to chew them over once again, finding there arc, hearing their resonance, rearranging their pattern.

For whilst I might begin my prayers with a desperate cry of ‘incline your ear to me’, a headlong dash for safety and reassurance, a pleading for an end to my troubles, through the help of this psalmist I can end them in the surety of steadfast love.

With the help of this psalmist I can begin to understand that God’s face will shine on me – will shine on me again and again – does not ever even glance away from me, even in my darkest dark.

At such moments when I feel agony or I feel numb, I hear myself mumble repeatedly, ‘My times are in Your hands’ (Psalm 31.15).  The resulting heart-knowledge has literally been my salvation.

 

backyard refuge rocks. (iPhone image)

For all those who are willing to take the opportunity of the pause that is Holy Saturday to be alongside those who grieve, and most especially in times of pandemic, I offer these words by Christine Valters Paintner:

Do not rush to make meaning.

When you smile and say what purpose

this all serves, you deny grief

a room inside you,

you turn from thousands who cross

into the Great Night alone,

from mourners aching to press

one last time against the warm

flesh of their beloved,

from the wailing that echoes

in the empty room.

 

When you proclaim who caused this,

I say pause, rest in the dark silence

first before you contort your words

to fill the hollowed out cave,

remember the soil will one day

receive you back too.

Sit where sense has vanished,

control has slipped away,

with futures unravelled,

where every drink tastes bitter

despite our thirst.

 

When you wish to give a name

to that which haunts us,

you refuse to sit

with the woman who walks

the hospital hallway, hears

the beeping stop again and again,

with the man perched on a bridge

over the rushing river.

Do not let your handful of light

sting the eyes of those

who have bathed in darkness.

 

‘In a dark time’

Christine Valters Paintner

backyard refuge rocks (bl)

psalms for passiontide: Easter Eve vigil Psalm 136

Thank God! He deserves your thanks.

    His love never quits.

Thank the God of all gods,

    His love never quits.

Thank the Lord of all lords.

    His love never quits.

Thank the miracle-working God,

    His love never quits.

The God whose skill formed the cosmos,

    His love never quits.

The God who laid out earth on ocean foundations,

    His love never quits.

The God who filled the skies with light,

    His love never quits.

The sun to watch over the day,

    His love never quits.

Moon and stars as guardians of the night,

    His love never quits.

(Psalm 136. 1-9 The Message)

love never quits (bl)Love never quits.  Canon 7D. f9. 1/250. ISO 100.

psalms for passiontide: Good Friday Psalm 22

This is such a richly textured psalm, densely packed with all kinds of imagery, depicting a plethora of emotional experience, and provoking in me a vast range of emotions.  It feels too much to unpack (and it is!); it feels too raw for me to want to sit with it for long.

God, God . . . my God!

    Why did you dump me

    miles from nowhere?

Doubled up with pain, I call to God

    all the day long. No answer. Nothing.

I keep at it all night, tossing and turning.

(Psalm 22.1-2 The Message)

This is a song-cry of anguish from one with years of faith experience behind them, who at the moment of writing finds themselves isolated and in all kinds of pain, desperate to convince themselves of the holy reliability of God and the certainty of faith.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

(Psalm 22.1 NRSV)

So many of these verses have phrases that writers down the centuries have plundered, using them to telescope time and show how God is there with the poet then, as much as God is present with this writer now.  Even the very structure of this psalm yo-yo’s between ‘I’ verses and ‘Yet You’ verses.

All of the Gospel makers draw on this psalm in one way or another in depicting their Crucifixion stories: the focus of this lean feast day today.  For instance, hear the mocking voices of onlookers at the foot of the cross:

Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver –

let him rescue the one in whom he delights

(Psalm 22.8 NRSV)

Or hear the soldiers taunts who tacked up the notice of the charge, ’This is Jesus, King of the Jews’ (Matthew 27.37) and see their behaviour as they exercised their dominant religious and political power, in this:

They stare and gloat at me;

they divide my clothes among themselves,

and for my clothing they cast lots.

(Psalm 22.17-18 NRSV)

It seems to me this psalmist is intimate with chronic illness, and with the physical effects that extended psychological and emotional stress can manifest:

I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint;

my heart is like wax;

it is melted within my breast;

my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,

and my tongue sticks to my jaws;

(Psalm 22.14-15 NRSV)

And yet… the psalmist forces out a testimony to God’s faithfulness that I can adopt as my own:

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;

in the midst of the congregation I will praise you …

stand in awe of him …

For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;

he did not hide his face rom me,

but heard when I cried to him.

(Psalm 22.22-24 NRSV)

Yes.  I too, can look over my life and see some clear places where I would not be here now if it were not for the Grace of God, if it were not for those precious seconds out of a lifetime where I felt God’s face turn towards me and even the very marrow of my bones knew that God saw my pain, understood and offered me my next healing breath.

Through his testimony this psalmist moves from being bound up in his own suffering, to seeing that of his community, the members of his congregation.  And as she talks of God’s steadfast love, God takes her ‘praise-life’ song and lifts it up so that the poet’s voice rebounds down the years.  He could be talking directly into our pandemic situation now:

From the four corners of the earth

    people are coming to their senses,

    are running back to God.

Long-lost families

    are falling on their faces before him.

God has taken charge;

    from now on he has the last word.

All the power-mongers are before him

    —worshiping!

All the poor and powerless, too

    —worshiping!

Along with those who never got it together

    —worshiping!

Our children and their children

    will get in on this

As the word is passed along

    from parent to child.

Babies not yet conceived

    will hear the good news—

    that God does what he says.

(Psalm 22.27-31 The Message)

God does what God says God will do: there is no distinction between who God is and what God does;  this is the poiesis of God, where word and deed and being meet.  And so as this psalmist utters a parting triumphant flourish ‘saying he has done it’ (Psalm 22.31 NRSV), so Jesus can say from his cross:

it is finished.

(John 19.30 NRSV)

and mean that the shaping of a genesis week from the chaos of my life is just beginning.

entwined into God's finishing (bl)entwined into God’s finishing. (iPhone image)

psalms for passiontide: Maundy Thursday Psalm 116.1,10-17

As I write this I am at present without a voice due to a virus I picked up several weeks ago.  My throat is my weak spot and a barometer to the state of my overall health, and over the last few years I have experienced several lengthy periods where I can only whisper, and twice have been told to rest my voice entirely for six weeks or more , which led to some hilarious speed notebook writing episodes.  My memories of such enforced silence, the endless battle to work through my frustrations, with the resulting sense of isolation and locked in grief and despair, means I am particularly sensitive to phrases that are about crying aloud to God.  Thankfully, I know that God doesn’t need me to be literal, but even knowing the Spirit can communicate through my wordless groans, does not exonerate me from the fact that there are moments where I have to make a very deliberate choice to communicate with God in the midst of my everyday mess, rather than try to flee in the opposite direction.

This psalmist asks me a very simple, direct question:

What can I give back to God

    for the blessings he’s poured out on me?

(Psalm 116.12 The Message)

I am left silent at that question.  I can write, make images, paint, print, and publish.  I can care for those around me.  I can pray for people – known and unknown to me.  I can tithe money, give my time, skills, possessions, but I’m still aware all that still falls far short.  As Christina Rossetti asks, ‘What can I give Him, poor as I am?’

The answer this psalmist gives is clear:

I will lift up the cup of salvation

and call on the name of the Lord

(Psalm 116.13 NRSV)

I have been created into a vessel by the steady hand of Love, my Maker.  Love has gushed the waters of life over and through and into me in an endless stream of abundance. 

All I can do is to render back to God the cup I am. 

I am made to be a reflector, made to become a cup of blessing returned to God and to others.

The psalmist challenges me to perform an agape action, and intentionally dedicate myself to God in response to blessing.  I lift myself up as a toast to God! 

This symbolic moment is deliberately designed to refer back to a sacred Temple rite, and perhaps also to evoke the image of the ‘cup of blessing’, one part of a Jewish ritual marking the Old Covenant between God and the tribes of Israel.  The psalmist’s urge is to rush to the Temple and enact a sign of thanksgiving and adoration.

Yet, in a wonderful telescoping of God’s history, the word this psalmist uses to describe the cup of salvation is ‘Yeshua’.

Will I therefore lift up Jesus? 

Will I drink from him? 

Will I partake in the endless cycle and exchange that is this cup of Grace?

And what will be my ‘call’?

I can bring the words of this psalm out of the ancient Temple and onto my kitchen table, knowing that any cup can be a held as a gift and as an offering; and that every sip can function as a silent acknowledgment of Love.

‘Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.’ (In the bleak midwinter, Christina Rossetti)

I love the Lord, because he has heard

my voice and my supplications.

(Psalm 116.1 NRSV)

messy vessel blessing (bl)messy vessel blessing. (iPhone image)

psalms for passiontide: Holy Wednesday Psalm 70

I find it fascinating that the Lectionary gives two days for me to contemplate this psalm in Holy Week.  What can possibly be so important in it that I need to hear it twice?

The subtitle of this psalm reads, ‘To the leader. Of David, for the memorial offering’ and there is an academic theory that suggests it might mean that this psalm was not assigned to a specific Temple rite or feast, but was kept ‘on file’ as it were, so that worshippers who turned up knowing they needed to go to Temple, but not having the words to articulate the depths of their grief and anxiety, might be given this psalm to say for themselves.  There’s something very powerful in the thought that for thousands of years these public words have been transformed into deeply personal and private prayers by seekers of God in their times of trouble.

The psalmist begins the poem by listing all the ways in which people are doing him down.  He is being victimised, mocked and criticised – and he’s asking God not just for deliverance from his problems, but vengeance on his persecutors.  She is angry, calling down shame and dishonour on their heads, begging that what they’ve dished out to her will be turned back on them.

Here is an individual, persecuted and desperate, feeling isolated from their community and their God.  I am poor at expressing my anger in healthy ways, and I have fortunately had few occasions in my life where I have thought of anyone as my enemy.  Perhaps shouting out Psalm 70.2-3 would be a good way of channelling those emotions?

Yet in the current pandemic situation I am also aware that perhaps we need to say this psalm together as a community, making the ‘I’ into ‘we’, as we ask for deliverance from an unseen enemy that we know so little about. which is affecting our lives in such extra-ordinary ways. 

Perhaps this psalm isn’t just about how I might get angry, it’s about how I ask for help – how we ask for help.

At the heart of this psalm lies a series of juxtapositions:

Let all who seek you

rejoice and be glad in you.

Let those who love your salvation

say evermore, ‘God is great!’

But I am poor and needy,

hasten to me, O God!

(Psalm 70.4-5 NRSV)

Yesterday I thought about how flabby my rejoicing muscles are, and how rarely gladness is my first response to anything.  Today, I am reminded again, as I was on Monday, that the psalms keep bringing me back to a central inarguable tenet of faith: God is Great.  But I am not.  I am so very far from being anything like.  But I know that I like the idea of loving Your salvation, even if I’m not sure what that really means for me in my here and now.

In acknowledging my poverty of spirit and my yearning for the comfort, security and reassurance of Your shelter, this psalm helps me see that what I am crying out for is an encounter with God’s Presence.  I want to behold God: to see and feel and touch and know intimately what is Great about God.  I long for my body to be cleansed, helped, healed and generally made fit for God’s purpose, with all the tactile, sensory entanglements and messiness that might require.  And as I write that sentence I feel a ‘yes’ rise up in me, though I have no real clue to what or to whom it is I am saying ‘yes’.

I return to what has become my passiontide prayer, and glimpse that I am already trying to surrender my poor spirit to the cosmically vast envisioning of the Great Artist:

shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life

(Psalm 51.10 The Message)

what Genesis might feel like perhaps (bl)what Genesis might feel like perhaps.  Canon 7D. f4. 1/800. ISO 100.

psalms for passiontide: Holy Tuesday Psalm 70

Psalm 70 is a psalm for anyone (like me) whose faith seriously wobbles from day to day, moment to moment.  It is a psalm that is a cry for help, and the psalmist needs help in a hurry.  It is full of worry, of panic, and there is a growing sense of urgency as the poet pleads with God to respond:

O Lord make haste to help me!

… You are my help and my deliverer,

O Lord, do not delay!

(Psalm 70.1b, 5. NRSV)

Too often I want a God who is an on-demand-fixer of the discomfort of my now.  Unthinkingly, I absorb the zeitgeist of immediate gratification and transfer it to my spirituality.  I run after new insight, new revelation, new intensity, new sensation, all in a rush to find a reassuring feeling that I am in contact with You.

This psalmist asks for immediate deliverance from the situations where she is criticised, ridiculed and mocked; situations where it feels like everyone is against her; situations where she feels persecuted for being who she is.

This psalmist runs to God for sanctuary:

Let all who seek you

rejoice and be glad in you.

(Psalm 70.4 NRSV)

Suddenly I am pulled up sharp by this reminder to rejoice.  In the midst of all my frantic need for real change of the situations I find myself in, I am asked to rejoice?

I am asked to rejoice in You.  I am asked to rejoice in Your steadfast love, in Your constancy, precisely at the very moment when I feel most in danger.  And in order to rejoice I have to stop my hamster-wheel anxiety and be still; become utterly present to the I AM.

You are my present.  Your presence with me is joy. 

All the faith and trust I ever might need is in that statement.  So I repeat that reconnection with Joy, again and again, growing gladness in me with every repetition.

In the midst of all my sorrows, God keeps calling me out to gladness: there are always, always, things to rejoice over, if I will but look. 

Again I pray with the psalmist whose words I read yesterday:

open our eyes to light

(Psalm 36.9 The Message).

Again I pray with the psalmist whose words I read on Passion Sunday:

shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life

(Psalm 51.10 The Message)

exercising my rejoicing muscles (bl)exercising my rejoicing muscles. (iPhone image).